America Plays with a Ouija Board By Tyler Truman Julian
during the pandemic. She’s considered close
contact, after a bad one-night stand. No
symptoms, still she’s in lockdown.
The text comes in from the boy, Freedom—
what he saved in her phone.
Freedom: got tested today. Her mind goes
to the sex, lackluster. I’m positive. It’s
been weeks—Why are you texting me? How long
had it been, lockdown?
A midnight meeting, she
initiated it. He bumbled
America’s bra strap, bumbled everything.
It wasn’t worth it, and now, she reads,
Close Contact. She revisits old texts, old
messages. Better days. I used to
be great, she thinks, sighs. Freedom
was no date. It still feels like loss—But that’s
Freedom, she says aloud, alone
with the news and the radio. Now it’s all muted,
and she sits with the board before her,
waiting. She’d moved in the silence
to the hall closet and found it among the toys
and boxes and books she’s missed
since childhood. Freedom is on her
mind now, sitting crisscross
applesauce, apple pie, on the floor. She
sets the planchet, asks, Can you play alone?
She places her hands, clears the board.
Are you there? A tremble. Are you
there? Yes—Back to center.
Do you have a name? Yes—Back
to center, and America sighs. What
is your name? G—No return
to center. G? The planchet rests. G.
She repeats the letter. G. George?
Can I call you, George? She thinks
back. Did Freedom have a name?
The planchet doesn’t move.
America glances at her phone, finds nothing.
It’s just you and me, George. Yes—
the planchet. The radio sparks to life
with indifferent news, and America jumps.
The planchet flies across the room. The news
announces the many dead. America listens,
wonders about Freedom. George? She calls
and retrieves the planchet. I should call him,
right, George? Yes—America clears the board, turns
up the radio and collapses on the couch. The map of the board
opens its borders to the room. I don’t know
why I’m crying, George. America laughs,
and the planchet twitches as night falls.
The news drones on, a voice in the dark,
America sleeps and wakes mid-morning
to a bright room, candles still burning around
the board. The planchet rests atop
A, and America sits up, stretches, checks
her phone. It’s dead as news. Good, George,
she says, crosses to the window. Dead, she says
to no one on the street. Lockdown, George. It’s the new
normal. America takes her temperature. Still no
symptoms. I need to get out of here
They’re listening, you know. The radio’s too loud,
but America can’t stop the 24-hour cycle, can’t bring herself to
turn it off. Plopping down before the board, she blows
out the candles, notes the planchet. A—
The board’s the same. She lays
down—George, what’s Freedom?—down, down,
and she’s asleep beside the board. Rest
hits America hard. When she wakes,
it’s dark and the apartment’s a mess:
cold mac & cheese on the stove, books
scattered, passages underlined, dolls
arranged in fairytale, a blanket fort
atop the couch. The board is different
too. P, the planchet reads. George, she calls out
into the dark. The candles flicker then burn, and
America sits up at the board and touches the planchet.
What happened? Y—O—U—Me?
Yes—Where were you? H—E—R—E—
Here? Yes—Where? Y—O—U—
What? P—H—O—N—E—America reaches
for her phone. The screen flickers in the candle
light, but there is no sound
except the news. The phone is still dead.
The planchet moves under her hands:
O—S—E—America stares. The news rolls out
from the room’s dark corners, the TV, the radio, all
playing on. America shivers, crying. The window
is open. The street below is empty. Hello
out there, she calls. A man looks up from down
the street. America ducks and hides. George, I’m
scared. She places her hands to the planchet. H—
E—R—E—I don’t want you here. No—
How long? America whispers. T—W—
O—Two? Two what? W—E—E—K—S—
What if I run? No—
What do you want? L—Don’t spell it.
Yes—America reflects. What will you
do after two weeks? S—E—A—R—C—H—
But I’ll still be here. Yes—America
reflects. The room is silent, the news stopped.
Dead air, filled with candle light. So.
It comes slowly. I’ll be alone? F—R—E—E—
The planchet swirls beneath her hand, clearing itself.
America sits back, the room, again, dark.
Tyler Truman Julian lives in Wyoming, where he writes, edits, and teaches. He received his MFA in fiction from New Mexico State University and now serves as review editor for The Shore. He is the author of Wyoming: The Next Question to Ask (to Answer) (Finishing Line Press, 2019), from which work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has been published in Barren Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, South Dakota Review, EcoTheo Review, and other journals. For more information, visit his website: tylertrumanjulian.com.